Surgeons performing complex cardiac procedures rely on the support of many skilled professionals, including perioperative nurses and anesthesia providers. One of the most crucial roles is played by the perfusionist, who operates the equipment that circulates and oxygenates the patient's blood. Because this replicates the function of the heart and lungs, it's typically referred to as a heart-lung machine. Perfusionists require a great deal of training and receive a correspondingly substantial salary.
The American Society for Extra-Corporeal Technology, one of the professional societies of perfusionists, performs a periodic salary survey of its members. While it doesn't make its data publicly available, its 2006 data is cited in the American Medical Association's Health Careers Directory. According to the directory, perfusionists newly graduated from training earn an average of $60,000 to $75,000 per year. Those with two to five years' experience earn salaries ranging from $70,000 to $90,000 per year, while perfusionists with six to 10 years of experience average $80,000 to $100,000 per year. Perfusion managers earned $100,000 and up.
In 2011, a perfusionist and an assistant professor at the Medical University of South Carolina, performed a salary survey of her colleagues. Her results were posted in a private perfusionists' forum and later reprinted with her permission in other locations. In her study, respondents reported an average income of $109,773 per year. Perfusionists who specialized in pediatric perfusion earned more than their adult-only peers, averaging $116,321 per year while adult perfusionists averaged $108,335. Chief perfusionists responding to her survey reported an average income of $130,772 per year.
Training and Certification:
Perfusionists can take several training paths, including undergraduate degrees, specialized graduate training and cross-training for health professionals from other fields. Many perfusionists complete a bachelor of science degree with a specialty in perfusion. This provides graduates with the training and clinical experience to write their certification exams immediately upon graduation. Others first complete a bachelor's degree, then add a master's degree or a graduate certificate in perfusion. Health-care professionals already practicing in related fields follow a similar path, adding perfusion to their existing qualifications. Each path requires graduates to write a certification exam administered by the American Board of Clinical Perfusion.
Perfusion is one of the few health care careers not tracked by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, but the bureau expects significant growth within the health-care industry, projecting in its Occupational Outlook Handbook that health care will account for 28 percent of all new jobs in the United States between 2010 and 2020. Perfusionists should benefit from this growth, with the aging of the baby boom generation and their increasing need for heart surgery. Related professions, such as cardiovascular technologists and respiratory therapists, are projected to grow by 28 percent to 29 percent over that period.